Semillon originates from Bordeaux in the south west of France where it is integral in the region’s dry white wines and world-renowned dessert wines. It is blended with Sauvignon Blanc for the classic dry white Bordeaux Blanc, while Botrytis-affected Semillon blended with small amounts of Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle produces the highly prized dessert wines, Sauterness and Barsac.
In Australia, Semillon was first planted in the Hunter Valley NSW in the 1830’s where it still thrives today. Semillon is also finding favour with Australian producers outside of the Hunter Valley in the Barossa Valley and Margaret River regions. The Adelaide Hills is becoming a flourishing region for Semillon, with the cooler climate producing some wines of great complexity.
About the Variety
The Semillon grape is rather heavy, with low acidity and an almost oily texture. It has a high yield and wines based on it can age a long time (up to 20 years).
Semillon is at its delicate best when picked early to make a wine of low alcohol. When young, it is deliciously crisp with abundant citrus aromas. With age it develops unique complex toast, vanilla and honey flavours, giving it depth and richness.
Semillon is fairly resistant to disease, except for rot. Its thin skin makes it an ideal candidate to be affected by the fungus Botrytis cinerea, which results in increased sugar levels in the grape. It can be made into ’late harvest’ or ‘cane cut’ sticky wine.
Since the grape has a thin skin, there is also a risk of sunburn in hotter climates. Hence, it is best suited for cultivating in regions with warm sunny days and cool nights.
Semillon is an important cultivar in two significant wine producing countries. In France, Semillon is the preeminent white grape in the Bordeaux wine region. In Australia, the Hunter Valley is the premier region for Semillon. It is also the main white varietal in the Barossa Valley, where it is produced in a fuller style, often with subtle oak treatment. The Adelaide Hills is also becoming a flourishing region for Semillon, with the cooler climate producing some wines of great complexity.
Western Australia’s Margaret River produces a pungent, grassy Semillon that is perfect for blending with Sauvignon Blanc. Other noteworthy regions include Mudgee and the Clare Valley.
As a dessert style, Botrytis thrives in conditions where there is lots of humidity combined with warm, drying conditions. The Riverina provides ideal conditions for this style of Semillon.
Semillon is the ideal seafood wine. It works beautifully with shellfish (oysters, scallops, mussels, clams), crustaceans (prawns, marron, yabbies, scampi, crayfish, lobster) and most fish whether white or pink-fleshed.
Aged Semillon works well with fuller flavoured foods such as smoked fish, chicken and pork.
Late Harvest and Botrytis Semillon is a perfect match with cheeses such as goat’s milk, brie and camembert.
Blended with Sauvignon Blanc as a classic dry white opens up a world of food matches from Mediterranean salads and Asian dishes such as Chinese dumplings and Japanese sushi and sashimi.